From New York Times bestselling author Helena Hunting, Shacking Up is a hilarious, swoon-worthy novel about sex and the cityand everything in-between.
SHE’S IN THE DOGHOUSE. WILL HE TAKE HER ALL THE WAY UP TO THE PENTHOUSE?
Ruby Scott is months behind on rent and can’t seem to land a steady job. She has one chance to turn things around with an important audition. But instead of getting her big break, Ruby gets sick as a dog and ends up with her tail between her legs. All thanks to a mysterious, gorgeous guy who kissed herand then coughed on herat a party the night before.
Ruby’s BFF might have found the perfect job opportunity: pet-sitting in the lavish penthouse apartment belonging to hotel magnate Bancroft Mills. But when the newly-evicted Ruby meets her jet-setting employer, she realizes he’s the same guy who got her sick. Seeing his role in Ruby’s dilemma, Bane offers her a permanent job as his live-in pet sitter until she can get back on her feet. . .and maybe back into his arms?
“Fun, sexy, and full of heart…Helena Hunting has done it again!”
USA Today bestselling author Melanie Harlow
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of PUCKED, Helena Hunting lives on the outskirts of Toronto with her incredibly tolerant family and two moderately intolerant cats. She's writes contemporary romance ranging from new adult angst to romantic sports comedy.
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By Helena Hunting
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Helena Hunting
All rights reserved.
Keep Your Tongue to Yourself
I set the half-full limoncello martini — it's as close to honey and lemon water as I'm going to get right now — on the table, and nab the waiter as he passes. Taking one of the offered napkins, I daintily select a variety of appetizers, oohing over the mushroom blah blah blah canapés. The name of the appetizer doesn't matter as much as how good it is. My taste buds are dancing with joy and so is my stomach. If this engagement party is an indicator of what the wedding will be like, I'm going to smuggle Tupperware in my purse.
My best friend, Amalie — who I refer to as Amie and have since we met in prep school — is marrying an insanely wealthy man, which makes sense since she also comes from an incredibly wealthy family. This union is still a couple of steps up the social ladder for her, so in her family's eyes, she's making a very smart partner choice.
As a product of the same kind of privileged background, I will say this financial partnership dance is one of the less desirable parts of being among the wealthy. Our parents all preach about marrying for love — but really, it's marrying for love of the bank account and maintaining status. Amie's fiancé has a bank account the size of a porn star's dingle — according to her reports, his actual dingle is just average, which is a little sad. But you can't have everything.
I ignore the waiter's disapproving frown as I delicately shove an adorable shrimp tart in my mouth to make room for one more on my cocktail napkin. Plates would be far more effective, but I set mine down somewhere and someone's already been by to clear it away. I'll make do with the napkin.
My current employment status — or unemployment status, to be more accurate — means I've had to resort to a modified eating plan. One that consists of a lot of ramen noodles. I could ask my father for help, more than he already provides, but requesting additional funds will prove, to both of us, that I'm struggling to make it on my own. That is not an option. The minute I do that, he'll have me moving back to Rhode Island so I can sit behind a desk and become another one of his corporate drones. That definitely ranks low on my list of awesome things to do with my life.
I wait until the waiter has moved on to the next group of people, make sure no one's paying attention to me, then pretend I'm looking for something in my purse — which, in reality, I am. I stealthily open the plastic baggie, fold up the napkin with the shrimp tart, and slide it inside.
This is the third time I've done this tonight. I've racked up quite an array of snacks for the next couple of days. They'll make nice sides for my Raman noodle dinners. And lunches.
Between appetizer thieving sessions, I've been busy scoping out the hotties since I'm without a date. I suppose I could've invited someone, but an engagement party is the kind of event that indicates interest in further dates. Currently there's no one I'm that interested in. Besides, I have an audition tomorrow and I can't be up late. This negates any potential for post-date make-out sessions, so it's better that I came alone anyway.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity over my datelessness, I'm ranking the eligible bachelors on their hair and shoes. Hair says a lot about a man. I know who has plugs and who doesn't. Plugs indicate self-consciousness and excessive vanity.
Shoes also tell me a lot about the type of man I'm interacting with. If the shoes are pointier than mine, the man is usually too high maintenance and by that I mean that his expectation of women is outside of anything that I'd ever be willing to comply with. Plugs and pointy shoes are the worst of the worst. Those men are the ones most likely to insist on boob jobs and liposuction — whatever it takes to make their wives look as close to Barbie as possible. I refuse to be someone's silent arm candy.
"Ruby? Everything okay?" Amie puts her hand on my shoulder.
"What? Oh, yeah. Everything's fine. I have to get going, unfortunately." I should've left half an hour ago, but the food is incredible.
She side hugs me. "I'm glad you could come for a little while."
"I honestly wish I could stay longer. I feel bad about having to leave so early." And without even one phone number. Although, in fairness, I've been distracted with appetizer thieving.
She waves a dismissive hand. "I'm sure there will be plenty more parties before the wedding. I know you must be nervous about the audition, and excited."
"I'm crossing everything that it goes well tomorrow. I'd even cross my vagina lips if they hung low enough."
Amie coughs and glances around to make sure the pickle-up-the-ass trust-fund boys missed my inappropriate vagina talk.
"Sorry." I only sort of mean it. I don't want to embarrass my friend, but it's only since a massive three-carat-diamond-toting man came into her life that she's adopted this somewhat snooty, upper-crust attitude. Vagina jokes used to be our thing. At least in college they were.
She flutters a hand around in the air, the one with the rock, and smiles. "It's fine. I shouldn't even care, but Armstrong's mother will end up with a case of the vapors if she hears anyone say anything pertaining to who-has."
That my best friend is referring to girl parts as "who-ha" is more reason to worry about this engagement. Never have we traded dirty sex-part names for highbrow, approved ones until now.
"Amalie! There you are. I've been looking for you everywhere. I need you for photographs."
Amie turns to address the woman who's approaching. "Oh! I'm so sorry. I didn't realize they were scheduled now."
She looks as if she's probably somewhere in her late fifties, although extensive surgeries keep her skin baby-bottom smooth, at least the skin on her face. Her neck tells another story. I take in the rest of her. She's wearing a black dress that says funeral more than engagement party and around her neck is some kind of animal. "Is that alive?" I reach out, as if I'm about to give her pet a pat, but her recoil has me mirroring her.
"Ha!" she barks out a laugh. "Aren't you a funny one." Her tone seems to imply she doesn't find me funny in the least.
"That's a stole," I say stupidly. "Is that a fox?"
She strokes the dead animal wrapped around her neck, her lip peeling back in distaste. "It's a mink."
At least it's not a baby seal. Who in the world wears fur stoles in this century unless they've been abandoned in the wilderness and need it for survival? And it's May. "Let's hope PETA isn't waiting outside with a bucket of paint, huh?"
She blinks at me.
"Gwendolyn, this is my best friend and maid of honor, Ruby Scott. Ruby, this is Armstrong's mother."
Shit. I've just insulted my best friend's soon-to-be mother-in-law. This is not a good start.
Gwendolyn holds out a hand as if she's expecting me to kiss it. I shake it instead. "Oh, yes. Amalie's told me about your family. Scott Pharmaceuticals, isn't that right?" She tilts her head and arches a brow, or at least I think that's what she's doing. It's hard to tell since very little of her face seems to move.
"Uh, yes." I hate this part. The way people look at me differently the moment they know who my family is and that I come from money. Then there's the judgment that I don't quite belong because I'm "new" money, unlike Amie. I'm third-generation trust fund, but in this circle, that's considered new.
"Your father's new medical laboratory has made some groundbreaking discoveries, hasn't it?" She sounds like she disapproves. Maybe her husband has discovered the wonders of the artificial, never-ending hard-on and her dried out vagina is angry with me.
My father's team created the newest erectile dysfunction medication. It's a real porn-star legacy. I nod and smile, even though my father had absolutely nothing to do with the actual development of the medication. He just struts around making people think he did.
"Ruby is just on her way out. I'll be along in a moment and then we can take some pictures."
"Of course, of course." Gwendolyn waves us off as Amie takes my arm and guides me away. Gwendolyn is already striking up a conversation with someone else.
"I'm sorry about the stole comment," I mutter as we cross the room.
"It's fine. She's drunk, so she probably won't remember anyway."
She seems like a real piece of work. It also explains a lot about Armstrong. I'm still trying to figure out his allure. He seems to walk around with an entire jar of pickles rammed up his ass at all times. I'm also wary about how fast things have moved. They've only been together for a few months, but Amie seems convinced they're a match made in heaven. I guess the scandalous option of divorce down the line is there if necessary.
Not that I'm predicting divorce or anything.
I'm just rather familiar with the way these men trade in wives like cars when the model gets a dent — or the Botox stops erasing the wrinkles. My own father is on wife number three. His current wife is all of twenty-eight. She used to be his secretary — so cliché.
Amie fingers my hair when we reach the door to the ballroom. I used a curling iron to no avail, it's already straightened itself out for me. Amie has this incredible wavy, sandy blond hair, the opposite of mine in color and body. "Should I give you a wake-up call in the morning? Just to make sure you don't sleep through your alarm?"
"You don't have to do that. You'll be exhausted tomorrow morning after this. You should sleep in for once."
"I have to work tomorrow. I'll be up early."
I don't really understand why anyone would plan an engagement party on a Monday night, but apparently Armstrong's mother was highly influential. Even if it had been on a weekend, there's a good chance Amie would be up early anyway. It doesn't matter what time she goes to bed at, her internal alarm is set for 5:45 a.m.
"Sounds good. Maybe you can come by my place for lunch or something later?" I'm sure I can manage to scrounge up enough money to buy the necessary items to make sandwiches.
She makes her scrunchy no-no face. "I'm having lunch with Armstrong's mother to discuss wedding plans."
I mirror her displeased expression. "Have fun with that."
"We can do dinner later in the week. My treat."
"You don't have to buy." In all honesty, I can't afford to go out for dinner with Amie unless we do the dollar menu at the burger place down the street from my apartment, but my pride won't let me admit that. Sadly, Amie swears that place gave her food poisoning, so she refuses to entertain eating there. Being in between jobs sucks.
"I'll take you out to celebrate your audition."
"If you insist." I would love to eat something that isn't from a cellophane package.
"I do." She smiles, as if it's not a big deal. I'm already reviewing the menus at various restaurants and picking the most reasonable, filling dinner options.
Amie's unaware of how dire my financial situation currently is. I honestly didn't realize how bad it was until I checked my account yesterday. The one my father doesn't know about. The one that's very close to zero. Until three weeks ago, I had a steady paycheck and a role in a successful production that had been running for five months. I'd known something was up when the last two paychecks were late, and then bounced entirely. The production company had gone bankrupt, and I suddenly found myself with no income.
To make matters even worse, less than a week later, my agent decided to take early retirement with no warning. She dumped her entire client list, leaving us all scrambling for representation. So far I'm not having much luck securing a new agent, or a new role.
I need this role, otherwise I'm going to have to bite the bullet and get a part-time gig making overpriced coffee for the over-pampered dicks in this room. Which I'm not opposed to. It just sucks, given that I graduated with a Triple-Threat Award from Randolph almost two years ago. I naively assumed my ability to sing, dance, and act would mean an automatic ticket to Broadway. Boy was I ever wrong about that. So far, I've managed two small parts in Off-Off Broadway productions. Hopefully tomorrow pans out and I'm back on the payroll. I don't really want to entertain the alternatives, so I'm thinking positive and hoping for the best.
I give her a hug, drain my martini, set the glass on the table, and tell her to have fun ... As much as she can, considering the crowd she's managing. The massive chandeliers hanging from the ceiling have been dimmed, so the lighting isn't great. Or maybe it's the effects of the martini impacting the clarity of my vision.
I've never been a big drinker. In college when my friends were chugging beer and doing keg stands at frat parties, I'd be the girl nursing the same red plastic cup all night. It didn't help that all they usually had was beer, which I've never developed a taste for. So even though I've been sipping the same martini since I arrived, downing the back half of it hits me like I've chugged an entire bottle of vodka straight without eating ... For at least two days. The feeling won't last long, but it's discombobulating regardless.
I step through the doors and decide before I jump on the subway I should use one of the nice, swanky bathrooms. I'm not sure my bladder will be able to make the trip home and the walk to my apartment. Only a few people mill around in the open foyer, talking on cell phones. I spot the restroom sign and head in that direction, attempting to maintain poise.
The lighting in this hall is even worse, with only a few accent lamps illuminating the way. It's kind of creepy. The actual bathroom is lovely, with a couch in the corner and a primping mirror. Some woman with ridiculously high heels, abnormally long legs, and a super short, tight dress is currently taking up residence in front of the mirror with half her purse contents strewn over the counter. She's also talking on her phone, speaker style. She might be on video chat, actually, based on the way she has her phone propped up.
She pauses for a moment, her gaze shifting to me for a quick glance. I don't even have half a second to form a polite, potentially fake smile before she pulls a face as if she's smelling garbage and looks away.
I push through the first door to find a plugged toilet. Holding back a gag I move on to the next one and find it's clean. Once I'm locked safely in my stall, the modelesque bitchy chick resumes her conversation, as if closing the door somehow makes it impossible for me to hear what she says.
I drape my shawl over the hook, along with my purse, and hike up my skirt, tucking it into the front of my dress to prevent it from getting wet and pull a hover squat. I don't care how nice these bathrooms are, I don't want my skin touching the seat if I can avoid it.
"Ugh," the woman preening moans. "Do you think this dress makes me look fat?" I make a face at the door and hold in a snort. She's rail thin.
"You look amazing. I bet you look better than Armstrong's fiancée. I don't know why he's even marrying her. Her family doesn't have nearly as much money as his."
"But they're old money, and you know what that means."
Her friend makes a disapproving sound. "Still."
"Her dress is so last year. Anyway, I think my date with Banny is going really well."
"Now that he's not doing that soccer thing anymore and he's taking a role in his family business, he's definitely more appealing."
"He played rugby, not soccer, and I totally agree."
I roll my eyes at their conversation. These girls are the exact reason I rebel against the entire room of people out there and everyone associated with them. So shallow.
"Do you think you'll get an invite back to his place?" her friend asks.
"I really hope so. That would be ideal, but I don't know, he's been sick or something. He's been taking cold medication all night. Not that it matters. Do you think I should have sex with him if he does invite me back, or should I play it coy? I need another date out of this, so I don't want to come across as too easy."
"Maybe just a blow job, then?"
"That's a good idea."
"And don't let him take your clothes off."
"Of course not. I did send him that picture of me sucking on a lollipop a few minutes ago. You don't think that was too forward, do you?"
"He used to be a professional athlete, I'm sure he's used to forward."
Wow. This is a seriously classy conversation. I finish my business and avoid eye contact as I head for the sink and turn on the water hoping to drown out their conversation.
There are little bottles of lotion, packaged mints, and, ironically, lollipops arranged by the disposable hand towels. I select a grape one, unwrap it, and pop it in my mouth. I also take a package of mints. If I was alone, I might have hocked everything in that little basket.
Excerpted from Shacking Up by Helena Hunting. Copyright © 2017 Helena Hunting. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Keep Your Tongue to Yourself,
Chapter 2: The Impact of Flu Medication and Alcohol,
Chapter 3: Screw You, Awesome Kisser,
Chapter 4: Dinner Plans,
Chapter 5: Homes for the Homeless,
Chapter 6: Movin' On Up,
Chapter 7: Firecrackers in My Pants,
Chapter 8: Bon Voyage,
Chapter 9: Phone Calls,
Chapter 10: Luckless,
Chapter 11: Party Time,
Chapter 12: Mine,
Chapter 13: Jobs for the Jobless,
Chapter 14: Dancing Shoes,
Chapter 15: Accidental Snuggles,
Chapter 16: Hard to Control Hard-Ons,
Chapter 17: The Jig Is Up,
Chapter 18: Bliss to Bad News,
Chapter 19: I Hate Brittany,
Chapter 20: New Digs,
Chapter 21: Worst,
Chapter 22: Ice Cream Tastes Like Heartbreak,
Chapter 23: Break a Leg,
Acclaim for the novels of Helena Hunting,
About the Author,